Hello all, and I apologize for the lack of content I’ve been putting out. I’ll be going on temporary hiatus with this site until the end of August. I’ve recently been offered a temporary job that requires me to be away from civilization for a bit, (excited about that), and when I return I’ll put out a flurry of content! Currently, I am editing a story for the Hollow Hill’s anthology which will hopefully appear in that, if you’re interested in reading some of my new stuff until then. That is also likely when, “A Dance Through Time,” will be released.” Thank you for your understanding.
A poem to no one in particular:
I want to wake up where you are,
Beneath shared sheets and borrowed blankets,
On pillows of the roughest linens
or the softest downs.
I want to wake up where you are,
When dawn spills its light through cracked curtains
And stirs us awake.
I want to wake up where you are.
Your locks of hair, covering my face
Your perfumes enveloping me
like early morning mist over the ground.
I want to wake up where you are,
wherever that is — what troubles we face
What horrors may come, what happiness
I want to wake up where you are.
Arthur Noya was an ordinary man, who lived an ordinary life. Nothing he did throughout his life would make a lasting impact on the world — nothing he said or created would shift the consciousness of man forward, or throw humanity into a golden age. He garnered no great fame, and no great wealth, and died destitute surrounded by his solitude and the dozen and a half glistening remains of whiskey and beer bottles, and the innumerable pages of his journal, spread throughout the mess of his room. Scrawled on countless sheets of lined paper.
Mad ramblings, they’ve been called by the few people who’ve read them. Torn from the scattered mind, riddled with the insanity wrought from the self-imposed solitude and isolation. But within each of these pages, I have come to learn, is some truth to the world. A deep, underlying truth that must be shared and learned, about the very nature of our existence. Hidden from most. Hidden from me until his words opened my eyes.
I do not know why it was that he left me his journal of all people. He had family members remaining, some of which I had met before. In about the half decade that I lived in the apartment next to his, we spoke to one another a handful of times. I suppose that was the most amount of human contact he received in his final years. Or, perhaps, he saw his younger self in me: in the loneliness that purveyed through both of our existences. Or perhaps he really was mad.
Midsummer had come in a wave of heat that cooked the valley I lived in like a cast-iron skillet over an open fire when the smell of rotting meat wafted through the wood-paneling of our shared wall. It became unbearable after the second or third day, so I did what any other person would have done: I pounded on the wall.
“Noya!” I called, as the dull thuds of my fists on hollow wood rang throughout my apartment.
The only answer that came was the chatter of his television set, bleeding through with the putrid aroma. I went for his door next, pounding on it with the flat edge of my fist. The composite wood gave way and creaked open. A wave — dammed by the thin wooden door of the putrid smell of rotted flesh washed over me. My stomach twisted and churned before I managed to cup my hand over my nose to block out a bit of the smell and make peeking into the room bearable.
Monochromatic light flickered from the ancient television set, pressed against our shared wall, and filtered through the faded red, moth-eaten curtains to illuminated the figure seated on the couch.
Flesh dripped from the ripe body, and stained the white-felt sofa brown. As the summer sun beat down over the red-brick building, and cooked the dead man where he last sat. His head was turned to the side: hollowed holes where his dark, beady eyes once were, stared blankly at the western wall.The curls of his grayed hair fell freely from the top of his head, and gathered in pools of rot on the floor behind the sofa, and those cheeks that once held kindly wrinkles were eaten away by a family of rats that were still chewing on the muscles of his jaw, now slack and twitching with every nibble from the animals sitting in his mouth.
I jolted out as soon as I could comprehend what I was seeing. The contents of my stomach burned the inside of my throat as they stained the hallway’s shag carpeting. I staggered inside of my apartment and called the police. They arrived shortly after, and with a white sheet over his eaten face, they took him to the city morgue. I had to vomit as I described what I had seen when the police came to my door. I only caught a quick glimpse — seconds that seemed to stretch out for minutes, but that glimpse has never left me, even to this day, and I don’t suppose it ever will.
The smell stuck in my apartment, and I couldn’t seem to escape it with a walk, either. So I moved, and I thought I was done with the ordinary man, Arthur Noya. Fate, however, had different plans. About a month after I moved into my new place, a knock came to my door, and I found myself looking at a well dressed man, leading a delivery driver to my landing.
The well dressed man introduced himself as the attorney for the Noya family estate, and had informed me that Arthur mentioned me by name in his Last Will and Testament as the recipient of the countless pages of his journal spread all across the small apartment. That was the first time I heard the phrase, “mad ramblings,” whispered beneath the breath of the well dressed man.
I signed off to it, and the delivery driver set down a half-dozen black and white cardboard boxes, with their leads sealed shut with a layer of tape over the top. I carried them in one by one. Countless leaves of paper rested within — in the first few boxes, they seemed to be careful with the papers, setting them down on their sides and piling the rest behind them, so that the pages were filed neat and orderly — like one was looking at the crack of a book before it was opened. They must have given up at some point, because after the first two boxes, the rest were just crammed of papers. Each page was stained brown — from the rot that stained the air, or the liquor, I did not know. A few of them still had the smell of rotting flesh permeating them. Briefly, I thought of throwing them out, or burning them on the beach, but I’d thought that would be a waste. There had to be a reason he left them for me, after all.
Each page was filled out, front to back, and in every margin, with messy, hurried handwriting. I dug through the boxes, and I almost agreed with the assessment of the attorney. Mad ramblings, indeed. At the very least, it made for some good reading. Eventually, I found the first page. It was buried halfway in the third box, marked conveniently with a little, “1,” in the bottom right corner.
“There is one undeniable truth,” it began, “And that is, that I am dying. It’s inevitable. I can feel that dark specter creeping up on me everyday — feel the warmth leaving my body little by little. Every breath is more labored than the last, and darkness crowds my vision and my every waking thought. There’s no telling long how I’ll last at this point. It won’t be long. A few weeks, a month, maybe. But I will be dead.
And so I best get to writing, for I have many things to share — many secrets to spill, and many truths to tell. And, before the darkness overwhelms me — before my last breath leads my soul out of my coil, I wish to lay all of it out there for you, so at least some part of my story lives on after I do.
There is a world among our own. Invisible. Ethereal. Intangible, yet there. It rests above our’s and and wraps itself around every facet of our existence. Subtly influencing — changing the destiny of individual men.
It it possible to set foot in this world but once in your lifetime. It will be in a dream. A dream far more vivid than any you have had before, and one that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
I still remember mine — it was during the winter right before my tenth Christmas. I stood on the solid ground in our world, and looked into the other. Every thing was muted, as if every color in existence was mixed with a thick dollop of gray. Murky water lay a foot or so off the ground, as if suspended by some unseen force. I made my way to it, and stepped through.
Though the water didn’t touch me, it rippled as my shins passed through it. Round orbs of white light darted between my legs, and swam up the small of my back, turning into a fish as it crested my head and fell down my chest, splashing the water as it turned back into the orb. Another zipped past my ear, screeching as if it were a hawk.
More of the world spread out before me, as if a great fog had been lifted from my eyes. More of the orbs of light — sprites as I would come to call them, flitted back and forth all over the place. Some darted into our world, crashing through the muted veil. Leaving ripples in the air as if they were stones dipping beneath still surface of a glossy lake. Each ripple spread far and wide, reaching far into the sky, and deep into the ground.
Others seemed content with dancing around the tall stalks of the strange plants that grew here. Each one was constructed of harsh, jagged lines of red and white, resembling a plant that I was familiar with. A willow tree — cat-tails. Grass. These sprites danced around them like fireflies over a bog. It was so odd, yet it felt as if were a natural part of this world, as assuredly as the grass in our world grew in thin green blades, the grass in this world grew in red-white jagged light.
No artificial constructs marred this floating world. Instead those same jagged lines climbed every building of the city on the other side of the muted veil, as a morning glory vine climbs a chain linked fence, twisting and turning their way above every man-made construct around. They looked to me like the veins running down my arms. Each pulsated as thousands of white orbs moved through them.
Something flew by my head, drawing my attention to it. One of the orbs stopped in front of me and floated in the air, as if judging my worth. It felt as if I was standing in front of an intimate friend — one that I had know before my life had even begun. I wasn’t scared when it passed into me, and melded itself with my very being. A comforting warmth spread throughout me, and I felt utterly at peace. A jagged plant wrapped its way up my leg, and up my body, and I awoke.
Dawn rose in my bedroom morning, and I woke with the feeling that I had just been imparted a grand secret — something that I could never tell anyone. For the rest of the day, I swore I could see the jagged lines on every wall of every building. Or see the residual water floating above the ground. That went away after the first month. What didn’t go away, however, was the fog that seemed to crowd my vision in every waking moment. My sight was the price to pay to know the secret.
I learned later in my life, that the other people who knew, also paid a price. Some, like me, lost their vision. Others lost their taste, and still others lost their sense of touch. Hell, I knew a guy who lost a tooth in exchange for the secret. The worst off of all of us, were those who paid the price with their sanity, locked away in padded rooms, or in dank jail cells.
Since then, I’ve come across countless stories of these things, and encountered many more — the orbs of light that flitted between our world and their’s, changing their shapes as they did so. I did not go out looking for them at first, but they seems to find their way to me all the same, as natural as the rain falling from the heaven to earth. Eventually, it was me who sought these stories out.
There are a very few things that I am certain of in this world. The first of which is that I am dying, and I will soon be gone from this world. The second of which, is that the stories I have been witness to need to be told. They cannot die with me, and so I pen these pages in some vain hope that they find you and you, at least, carry them with you for some time. And thirdly, and most importantly: dealing with the orbs of light — the creatures born of that world who pass into our’s in their many different shapes and sizes, always always comes with a price. Be warned.”
Here’s a selection from, “A Dance Through Time,” to whet your appetite. Coming out soon. Can you tell what’s going on in this scene? If so, please feel free to leave a comment.
Heather tumbled through the white door and out of the great awning — sliding to a stop face first in the grime and muck of the rain soaked earth: the scent of torn grass assaulting her, as the blades found their way up her nostrils. As soon as she came to a stop, she sprang to her feet, and pivoted on her heel — charging forward to barrel her through the sturdy door, and find herself within the warm embrace of the awning’s atmosphere. To hear the lilt of the harp’s strum, and the song of the violin’s strings brushing against the bow.
Her shoulder found no purchase on sturdy oak or ash, and she tumbled forward onto the ground once more. No awning stood, instead there was only the grey of dawn peeking through the nearest horizon. Where was it? Where was she? Her eyes darted through the grey morning light, finding no answer to either of those questions.
All around her were grey, almost white mushroom — about two score, maybe more, arranged in a perfect circle around a portion of grass: laid low as if trampled by many feet. She spun in place: maybe she missed it? Maybe it was thinner than it seemed. No, no, no no no no. There was nothing but the rolling Welsh countryside, and the strange circle. There was no going back — no going back to the frivolity of the dance. No going back to the sweetest fruits and wines that she had ever partook of. No going back to the softest meat she had ever chewed, that melted in your mouth like it was made of snow. No…there was only the dull-drum of reality waiting for her.
It must have been a dream. She looked around, it must have been. A quick glance down told her that she no longer wore that violet dress, sewn of wild heather, and instead wore her muck stained, and sheep smelling gown. She patted her side, and sure enough she felt the heft of the metal sheathe of the dirk that her father had given her yesterday. So it was all a dream? Maybe she passed out after her jaunt through the countryside and imagined the whole thing. Her soaked and dirty clothes confirmed that for her. She’s had vivid dreams before — usually when she was in the throes of some awful fever, but this would have all of them beat. It must have been one of those.
Her hand wandered to her neck, and brushed against the cold metal of the chain. She grabbed at it again and pulled, and pulled and pulled, until the golden clasps on the back dug in to the bare skin on the back of her neck, and blood trickled down the small of her back. She looked around once more: where was she? Home? An uneasy wind blew past, and she shivered. Was it always this cold in May?
There was a hill on the opposite side of the circle: that must have been where she tumbled down into it…into wherever she was. The dawn was rising behind her as she set off over the hill.
Getting up was tough: the leather soles on her feet found no purchase on the slick grass, and four times she tumbled down the steep slope, before she gave up whatever dignity she still held and dropped to her knees, and dug her fingers into the muck to pull herself to the top of the hill. As she crest it, a roar of some great beast broke through the silence and bird song, and she looked overhead: a giant tin bird glided above her: several hundred meters above her head, far higher than anything of that size had a right to be. The sky screamed in the distance, and she covered her ears.
Heather stayed perfectly still until it was but a black dot in the horizon, before moving forward again. It was followed by a couple others, which she hid from by ducking into the tall grass around her and burying her face in the mud. What else would a beast of that size — a great dragon, a great eagle, eat besides man? The ground shook, and she stayed down for hours, quaking in the mud. She stayed there until it was safe: until the roaring stopped, and a birds — fewer than they were before, flew back over her and disappeared in the eastern horizon.
Dawn had passed by the time she found the courage to move once more, and the yellow sun was well on its way to the southern sky, or at least she thought. It could have been the northern sky, or the western…or maybe this land didn’t have simple concepts like, ‘east and west.’ Where was she to go? There was only one place that she could go — forward to lord knows where.
Hello there fellow creative person! Are you like me? Do you look over the work you’ve done? The countless hours toiled away — the brainpower depleted until you’re left a quivering husk at the end of every creative stint you pull? Do you look over the thing you’ve just made, that object of your unyielding attention and just think:
“Did I really make this? It’s good. I’m proud of this thing that I’ve dedicated a significant amount of my time on these last few days.”
No? Neither do I. If you’re like me, and, from what I’ve seen on a variety of social media platforms, a lot of other like minded creative people you’re more likely to sigh deeply to yourself and notice every single flaw that you made, and hate your own art.
An artist? Oh, look, that line is slightly off from where it’s supposed to be. The entire piece is ruined. A writer? Oh look, you’ve used the same word twice on that page, you hack. A sculptor? Ah, you messed up on that left nipple there. Good job. You fraud. Painter? Potter? Artisan of any stripe? I’m sure you’ve felt this sudden strong urge of impostor syndrome at least once this month, if not more. Am I right? Of course I am.
Why is that? Why do we never like what we’ve created, despite giving it our best effort, and our most eager attention? Is there a reason? Societal? Psychological? Well, I have a few theories.
First, is because of the societal pressure to be perfect that we’re brought up in. Fail a test? Line up against the wall and watch all of them smarter kids play kickball at you. No, we won’t show you what you’ve done wrong, you’re just supposed to feel bad about being wrong. Didn’t turn in your homework? Same thing. Don’t understand something? Keep your head down, or you’ll be the laughing stalk of the entire classroom.
These instance will, overtime, build up a mind that’s not used to failure. Even balks at it. But that’s the thing. To err is human. It is the most fundamental aspect of humanity that we all share. None of us are perfect. And the last one that was reportedly perfect we went and made the mistake of nailing him to a pair of logs. And that’s a good thing. Nobody likes to fail — that would be true in a society that didn’t expect perfection at every turn, as well. And because of that, every failure should become a learning opportunity.
Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And that’s a world-view we should live by, too. Doing, after-all, is the best way of learning. And failure always comes with the doing. Perfection is, and always will be unreachable, embrace the small failures and strive for perfection, sure, but you’ll never reach there. Perfection, afterall, is the enemy of good. And good is good enough.
Gagging is a visceral response: something that one’s body does automatically, without any conscious input. A type of reaction on the same level as tearing up when dust blows into your eyes, or yanking away your hand when touching a hot skillet. It is the simultaneous feeling of your throat closing up, and your stomach trying to escape through it. It can be triggered by many things: the smell of rotting meat wafting through the air, the sight of something so horrific you’d rather not see it. The taste of something truly detestable on your tongue, or the feeling of something awful crawling on your skin. Hearing something that you never wanted to hear could also cause that reaction.
Caleb woke up gagging that early December morning. The cold winter wind whistled through the thin cracks in my window underneath the moth eaten sheet hung up as a curtain. He put his hand over his nose and pushed himself off the old mattress, laid over the old metal frame of a bed. Each movement sending reverberating creaks to the springs below. He tried to be as slow as possible — the downstairs neighbors had already complained about the sound he made sometimes during the night when he spent them working on something or another.
He stepped tenderly on the wooden floor, as to not illicit the familiar groan it made from the rotting foundations: pressed against leaky pipes, and headed towards the window, hand still firmly planted over his nose. Over the months, he had grown confident in his ability to navigate the darkness of his room, and with confidence, he strode forwards…slamming his shin into the cast iron leg of the old bed. It scraped against the wooden floorboards, and bounced with the sudden jolt.
Pain shot up his leg, and he bit the inside of his cheek to stop the curses welling up at the tip of his tongue, and waited for the springs to stop shaking to see if his neighbors downstairs awoke from the noise. No movement from them: none of their usual knocks on the ceiling when he had done something to wake them, so he continued on his way to the window.
Quietly, he moved across the wooden floor, and quickly he pulled aside the moth eaten sheet, and peered down into the street below. A smattering of snow hugged the grown in thin banks as far as his eyes could see. Cars rushed past, and the night still hummed with activity. What time was it? The moon was hidden beneath a thick veil of vomit colored light, pouring out of every orifice of this damned city. How long had it been since he’d seen a star?
Sure enough, leaning against the red brick wall of his apartment, two stories down was a man. He was a lot better dressed than the normal person who did the same, and he smelled a lot more of expensive alcohols. He hummed along out of tune with the bass music of the club down the street as a yellow puddle formed in the well worn snow below him.
A few seconds after the curtain snapped open, the man glanced up to him. Caleb wasn’t able to make out the words he shouted that came through the thin glass layer as muffled yells towards him. The man tossed up a middle finger, a gesture that Caleb was more than willing to reciprocate. At that, the man bent down to pick up a handful of yellow snow, packed it tightly and threw it with all of his might at the window. The snow smacked against the window, and the stone tucked inside splintered the glass.
He was able to hop backwards as soon as he heard the grass cracking, and dodge all of the glass that had come flying inward. Caleb sucked in the freezing air now flooding into the room, and tip toed around the glass. The man had pulled up his pants by the time that he was able to peek out again, and had a noticeable wet stain in the front of his already dark jeans, and was stumbling back towards the club, a string of curses hanging on the air.
“Yeah, fuck you too, buddy.” Caleb yelled out the window, the man didn’t seem to notice.
He gagged for the second time that morning, as he felt something wet and cold squish beneath his toes, and hopped backwards. The floor creaked beneath his feet, causing him to pause once more. They still didn’t stir.
The air inside of his cramped apartment quickly got cold, and the smell of fresh urine was quickly becoming overwhelming, even through his hand. He had to get out of the apartment: at least until he could tell his landlord about this and, hopefully, get a replacement for his window, or, at the very least, pick up some cardboard and duct tape from a hardware store. There was no way to he would be able to make it through the last few hours of the night through the smell.
His closet was across the room, so he stealthily made his way across it, making a wide arc around the metal frame of the bed, stepping as gingerly as he could on his tip toes. Now, he wouldn’t make a single sound as he slid across the floor, as softly as a mouse darting through shadows.
Through the darkness he deftly made his way across the room, step by quiet step, he’d not make a sound this time…not a single one. Or so he thought, before the same shin rammed into the leg of the baby grand piano that sat on an elevated platform across the room from his bed. Once more he muffled a curse on his lips as the strings inside sang their harsh vibrato from the shaking of the case. The lid of the piano crashed down shortly after: a dull thud rang out throughout the cramped apartment. Before he even had a chance to mutter another string of curses, the nearly empty liquor bottle that rested near the edge of the wooden case fell over on its side and rolled towards him, like the percussive rolling of a snare drum, ending in a loud cymbal crash of broken glass at his feet. Underneath the shimmering shards of glass, and beneath the brown alcohol was a sheet of paper: five bold lines printed on it, with three nights worth of work running off the pages in black streaks. He sighed.
Three loud knocks resonated from underneath his feet: his downstairs neighbors were definitely awake now, and he would no doubt get an earful from his landlord whenever he woke up and made his way down here, he hoped that he wouldn’t be kicked out: shitty as they were, these were still the most affordable apartments within the city, and he couldn’t afford to just pick up and move out.
The time for silence has passed, as the sound of his neighbor’s angry shouts came from below.
“Sorry.” Was the only thing that he could respond with, shouting down through a hole in the floor.
“Shit head!” They shouted up back at him.
Caleb hurried his way across the wooden floor, and flipped on the light switch. The sole incandescent light-bulb, swinging from the breeze, blowing in through his shattered window. As the orange-yellow light flooded the room thousands of tiny legs scurried for the safety of shadow, and he felt himself gag for the third time that morning.
He hurriedly threw on some clothes: a pair of denim jeans, a long sleeved undershirt, and a hooded sweatshirt. Along with two pairs of socks, and a solid pair of sneakers, and he was good to go. He had never left the apartment quicker than he did that day — it was almost a relief for the cold blast of air as he opened the locked door to the outside world, as it chased away the lingering, putrid aroma of fresh urine from his nostrils.
With no destination in mind, he wandered the streets, hands firmly placed in his pockets. He had such high hopes for himself when he first moved to New York: high hopes that were eventually shattered. Since his second year in Junior High he had always felt as if he were a big fish in a small pond, and had always looked down on the people in his hometown: and why not? He was better than them? He had scored the highest on all of his tests, he had been the star of the baseball and football teams, and he had already given several piano recitals to the town by the time he graduated highs school — some of them even paid venues! He was confident, some might say arrogant, but there was no doubt in his mind that he was the best that the town of Mavrin Kansas had to offer.
That still radiated throughout his mind, even as he was making his way down the snow covered streets, dodging the frequent homeless, and the occasional person leering at him through the corner of their eyes. A big fish in a small pond, that’s what he believed he was back then, now? Now he saw himself as a sardine in a cannery.
There was nothing that he liked about the city: the twinkling of the city’s lights — which he had once seen as a thousand diamonds ready for the taking, now kept him awake every night with their ceaseless glimmer. The stone streets seemed to scream modernity at him, bringing him out of the stone age of rural living. Now the hardness of every step bled into him. The towering skyscrapers and apartment complexes seemed like distant peaks to climb — distant heights to conquer, but now? Now they seemed to be megalithic mausoleums, burying the masses in human suffering. And the constant hum of the traffic passing in front of his apartment seemed to him, at the time, the chorus of human progress singing to him, now it was the droll hum of a death march.
There was nothing he liked about the city. Nothing. If he could, he’d leave, but he had given up everything to move here: everything. There was nothing waiting for him back home in Kansas. Even if there were, the money he got from whatever small jobs he could find to do around the city that allowed him ample time to write his music, and still earn some money for food, rent, and most importantly, alcohol.
What was the reason though? What further reason did he have for attempting to further his music career: when perspective venues find out that he didn’t go to some prestigious music school, let alone go to a college for music, they shut their doors on him. He missed his chance a decade ago, when he was offered a scholarship for a University in Kansas. He was better than that, or so he thought. Still, however, he held the belief in his music strong within his heart: it was good music, he just needed people to see that….but it was impossible.
Thousands — hundreds of thousands came to New York looking for a chance for just that: finding a career in the arts. How many prospective Broadway actors lived underneath bridges, or with six or seven people in cramped studio apartments? How many painters lived off the fumes of their acrylic and oil paints until they died of starvation? How many famous writers in waiting, how many composers? Countless. There was no room for him to shine. He was a sardine in a pool of sardines, without the temerity to become the shark he needed to be.
No longer did he dream: the alcohol normally robbed him of consciousness most evenings. On the rare occasions that he did, however, it was of rolling hills of grain, golden stalks of towering corn, and endless patches of grass. He never thought he’d miss those simple things, but every dream of home had those same scenes playing out in his mind like a silent film.
Wordlessly, he walked the streets, quietly cursing his fate. There was no escape for him. No way out of the city. No way back home. He was going to die here: surrounded by rats and cockroaches in a too small apartment with the putrid aroma of fresh urine surrounding him.
Mindlessly, he wandered the streets in quiet desperate search for his escape from the cold gray hell that he found himself in. Slowly and steadily, and with measured steps he crossed icy streets, still bustling with traffic. He hurried through seedy alleyways and detoured around avenues and boulevards with groups of people, and eventually found himself wandering between lines of planted and well maintained trees — his feet brushing through the withered, frozen grass beneath.
He passed by freezing pines, and wandered through well maintained gardens, until he found an empty bench, and brushed off a patch of the snow to sit down. Oh, how his frozen body ached, and how his clenched teeth chattered. He looked to the heaven, and the moon — in all of its waxing beauty, could finally be seen.
Only here….in Central Park was he able to find even the slightest semblance of peace. The only people who came by were couples looking for a hidden location to embrace one another in secret, the occasional vagabond, and the destitute. He supposed he fit into that last category. At that realization the sigh that escaped his lips floated to the heavens in white smoke.
He closed his eyes, and the sounds of the city nearly died out, and he could almost feel himself leave his body and return to easier times back in Kansas. He listened as the wind rushed through the frozen, bared branches of the trees around him, and shook the dying blades of grass free of snow as a few flakes lifted, and danced in a flurry around him.
As the sounds of the city faded, and his mind became one with the bleakness around him, he heard something, at the very edge of his hearing. The faintest whisper of a song.
Celine was queen of the cats. She held her head high wherever she went — be it the dark alleyways of the city, the lighted sidewalks that the humans traveled, or through the secret roads only known by cats. No fear swayed her — how sharp her fangs and claws, ready to bite and tear at any foolish enough to confront her. The fiercest Toms and the meanest Mollies were nothing compared to her, and shirked away when she flicked her tail down their alleys. She ate whatever she wanted — the freshest refuse thrown away by the wasteful humans, and hunted only when the fancy took her. Though she was queen, she held a love for most cats.
There was one type of cat, however, that she could not abide: those cats that required the help of a human to live. Humans were fickle things — mean and petty, and any cat worth their salt would do better without them, or so she had been told and raised by her mother to learn, and any cat that consorted with their kind was hardly a cat at all. A few naive humans had occasionally tried to run their coarse hands over her calico fur, but it wasn’t long before they found out that those weren’t there for show. She had never been touched by a human, and she intended to live the remainder of her life that way.
Proudly that summer evening — when the sun was blazing orange, she strolled down her favorite alleyway. It always had the best foods: warm pork and beef, chicken and fish. It was a smorgasbord for an alley cat, and it was all hers as the cats that had gathered there scattered away, like usual. A broken cardboard can of salt had fallen free as they did so, and she lapped up the few grains, and hopped onto the tin garbage pail.
Ah…her favorite. Raw pork, with a bit of sugar from a split paper bag on top. She tore into it, and ate. So immersed in the flavors and smells of everything around her that she didn’t take notice of the four pair of paw pads coming down her alleyway. And it wasn’t until she heard a rumbling growl that she turned her head, and perked her ears.
Two dogs: black with brown accents on their mouths and chest, and two pointed ears on the top of their head, and snarling teeth, as long as her legs, made their way to her. She raised her tail and hissed, shaking her body. It was a display of aggression that was enough to scare off any cat, but it was laughable to the approaching doberman. As they approached the garbage pail, she leapt off and backed away, hissing all the while. Behind her, a redbrick wall rose to the top of the sky. There was no secret road. No fence to scramble over. Nothing. She was stuck.
They approached, and her tail brushed against the brick wall. Cornered. Her heart thumped and the first snapped at her. She leapt back and struck out with her sharpened claw, cutting thin red ribbons across the dog’s face. It yelped and pulled backwards. The other snapped as well, but Celine was faster: her fangs sinking into it’s throat, the coppery liquid flowed down her throat like fresh water.
She clung desperately, as it shook it’s head to try to throw her off. Not for long, however, as the other one took hold of the back of her neck and clamped down. The warm August air left her lungs in a pained hiss. It was only by a lucky claw connecting to the dog’s eye that it let go, and threw her against the red wall.
Her body smacked the brick, and her body went limp. The dogs inched closer and closer, red stained teeth flashing as her consciousness faded. This was it. She’d die in this alley, and the dogs will eat her flesh, and the crows will get what’s left. Such was the way of life for street cat. How cruel.
Rubber met concrete before her eyes closed, and the sound of dull thuds and pained whimpers and snarls broke the rising silence in her ears. The two dogs ran from the alleyway, and left her limp body on the concrete: warmth spilling from the tears in her neck. Ah, how cold.
His hands pressed against a cloth, stymied the flow of blood. But it was too late. She opened her eyes — oh, how hard it was: a human man, brown hair, down to his forehead, and a brown beard encircling his face. A human had touched her. How disgusting. She tried to hiss, to warn him off but all that came out was a faint whisper.
“It’ll be alright, baby.” He said, as wind rushed the two of them.
Ah, but it was too late…her eyes closed and all she knew was darkness.
She awoke in a bright room, humans in white clothes surrounding her, pulling at her skin. She tried to scramble away, but her leg burst in pain: broken? A needle entered the back of her neck and a coolness rushed over her again, putting her to sleep. Next time she awoke in a metal cage, surrounded by darkness and other animals, pawing at the latches. Captured. By humans, no less. There was a bowl of water near her head, and it was only then that she realized how swollen her throat was with thirst. She lapped up the water, and then some, then curled up as far away from the opening as she could.
Morning came, and she was pulled free from her slumber. She tried to scratch at them, but she found her claws gone. She tried to bite at them, but they stuck a cone around her neck, and she couldn’t reach. They washed her with a cloth, and she never felt so clean: the only itching she felt was where the dogs had bitten, as if it had scabbed over already. But that was impossible. She wanted to scratch at it, to explore it, but the cone stopped her.
The human man who rescued her came later in the day and picked her up, and gave the human female a plastic card, and she gave him an orange bottle that rattled with every step. She tried to bite at him, but she couldn’t. He carried her in his arms for blocks, into a small, cramped apartment, and placed her on a pillow on the ground, covered by a warm blanket. She hated to admit it, but it was comfortable. The most comfortable thing she ever felt, but it wasn’t enough to sway her — she was going to escape. Or at least she thought. As soon as she stepped forward, her front paw burst in pain. Broken, definitely. There was a white plaster around it.
The human would try to scratch her, but a sharp hiss from her was usually enough to shoo him away from her pillow. She wanted to scramble for
Everyday the human would put out food: the freshest fish, and coldest pork she ever tasted. Sometimes it had some of the small stones in the orange bottles in with it. They were bitter tasting, but if she didn’t eat it, he’d force to dissolve in her mouth. That resulted in more than a few scars on his arms. After a week or so of the bitter stones, her stomach stopped hurting, and she no longer felt the constant hunger she had for years, and a little while after that her heart never felt like it was running too fast. The bitter stones only lasted a month or so, but the effects were permanent.
It took more than that to earn her trust, though. The cone came off in that month, but the cast on her leg stayed, and she still couldn’t run. Every night when she fell asleep she could feel him scratching the spot she could never quite reach behind her ears and pretend she’d be asleep until it lulled her to it.
Another month and the cast came off, but her leg was still tender. Instead of the pillow, now she had a bed: enclosed on all sides except the top. It blocked out the wind from his fan, so she took it. It was winter before the tenderness started, and she decided that she’d run away when the cold left, and the white left the earth. She’d enjoy this warmth while it lasted. She felt the best she had since she was a kit.
Every day she feasted on the best foods, and slept in comforting warmth. Halfway through the winter she took to crawling in bed next to the human. No more would she bite at him. And her claws were gone. She wouldn’t be royalty anymore when she left, but at least she’d be free. He was warm, her rescuer, and she came to enjoy curling up in his lap whenever he’d sit and read, or watch the moving pictures.
The next winter came, and then the next. She saw him while he was angry, she saw him when he was sad. She saw him when he got the news that his mother had passed, and comforted him. She grew to love him, more than she loved any cat. More than she loved herself. She was with him when he brought other humans home, and with him when he made smaller ones and moved to a bigger house. She watched his family grow, and soon the scars on her neck were a reminder of when she was foolish.
Now the smaller humans were larger, and the kind young man who had taken her in and saved her life had strands of gray in his hair, and yet she loved him. How much better of a life was this? She curled up to him as he sit beside a blazing fire. Oh, the warmth and love she experience. The fullness of a life not spent scraping over garbage pails. She smiled…and awoke no more.